Document: Biodiversity and regional sustainability analysis

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Faith D.P. 1995. Biodiversity and regional sustainability analysis. CSIRO, Canberra. ISBN 0 643 05764 1

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ISBN 0 643 05764 1


Evaluating sustainability at a regional level requires some assessment of the degree to which conservation and production criteria are integrated so as to provide high present and future net benefits to society. This assessment cannot be achieved simply by using indices based on comparisons for the individual criteria of observed indicator values with standards; not only may objective standards not be apparent but also the trade-offs among criteria may not be captured by such indices. A criterion of biodiversity protection presents special problems applied regionally, but recently has been incorporated into a trade-off or multi-criteria framework, avoiding the need for arbitrary standards or targets for biodiversity. Biodiversity and other criteria, such as forestry suitabilities, can be explored regionally by varying the relative weightings on the criteria and determining how these affect trade-offs and consequent total net benefits. Such trade-off spaces can be used to quantify regional sustainability - defined here as the degree to which a given region’s particular capacity for trade-offs has been realised (or is potentially realisable).

An example illustrates how two regions, having the same forgone biodiversity and same forgone forestry, can have different sustainability ratings, because the distribution of opportunities among the region’s areas, and hence capacity for trade-offs, differs between the two.

Current sustainability of a region is quantified, for a given relative weighting of criteria, as a function of the difference between the total net benefit of the current land allocation/management, and the highest total net benefit that would have been achievable, ignoring the given land allocation/management and any current constraints on change. Potential sustainability, in turn, is defined as a function of the difference between the highest total net benefit still achievable given the current allocation plus constraints, and the highest total net benefit achievable again ignoring the current allocation/management and current constraints on change.

In the absence of any definitive fixed weightings on the basic criteria or objectives, sustainability must be acknowledged as not always reducible to one single number. However, sensitivity analysis may reveal that, over a range of weights, different land allocation scenarios consistently lead to different sustainabilities, or that some factors rather than others are consistently critical to achieving higher sustainability in a given region.

Using a simple example with two basic criteria, biodiversity and forestry, scenarios are illustrated in which

1) constraints on the set of areas given as already-protected versus already-forested dramatically affect current and potential regional sustainability,
2) land clearance reduces regional sustainability, but is partly compensated for by forest plantations on cleared land, and
3) a “sympathetic” form of forestry management of individual areas, providing partial biodiversity protection at a small cost, in some cases improves the overall sustainability rating of the region.

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